Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto No. 6 in B flat major K238 (1776) [20:01]
Piano Concerto No. 8 in C major K246 ‘Lützow’ (1776) [22:32]
Piano Concerto No. 9 in E flat major K271 ‘Jeunehomme’ (1777) [32:48]
Angela Hewitt (piano)
Orchestra da Camera di Mantova/Carlo Fabiano (leader)
rec. 30 November, 1-2 December 2010, Das Kulturzentrum Grand Hotel, Bobbiaco, Italy
HYPERION CDA67840 [75:23]

Fans of Angela Hewitt and the high quality Hyperion label will be greatly warmed by the prospect of a complete recording of Mozart’s piano concertos, and this is volume one of what looks like becoming a very special set indeed. First impressions are of a superbly balanced recording, Hewitt’s favoured Fazioli instrument full and rounded in tone, the orchestra light and full of elegant phrasing.

My own favourite set of the Mozart Piano Concertos has long been that with Murray Perahia and the English Chamber Orchestra available on Sony Classics. This cycle has that intangible ‘desert island’ quality which satisfies on just about every level, allowing peace of mind that you never really need another version of these great works. Perahia’s set also has the same three concertos on a single disc, and even though the recordings date from 1977-1984 they still sound nigh on perfect to me, but comparison with this new recording does show some patina of age, with Hewitt’s pert and lively piano tone somewhat less fat and hazy than Perahia’s. Hyperion’s balance is a bit more up-front, the acoustic less of a factor in the general perspective of sound, but still with plenty of air in the sound. The advantage is one of greater detail with a little less grandeur, still maintaining Mozart’s beautiful moulding of space through sound and having a full dynamic range but with a more intimate overall picture.

As with her marvellous Bach recordings, Angela Hewitt has written full and eminently readable notes for this release. She admits “to having once considered the early concertos not very interesting, but having now taken [K238] into my repertoire I have changed my mind completely.” Angela Hewitt’s commitment is always beyond doubt, and even where certain musical sequences or transitions are arguably less interesting her shaping of phrases and sense of direction and purpose are always equally in evidence. She doesn’t seek to impose drama or intensity where none is intended, leaving room to make crucial musical points to stunning effect. She uses Mozart’s own cadenzas, improvising with poetry and sensitive reserve where the music demands this.

This isn’t the kind of recording which demands picking over details. Angela Hewitt’s Mozart is uncontroversial, and even where a more personal aspect of interpretation creeps in she has a tendency to explain her thinking in the notes, such as with the mildly slower final solo statement of the rondo theme in K238; “giving time to ornament it more fully, before the orchestra regains the momentum.” Lack of controversy and adherence to ‘convention’ does not however equate with dullness. All of these movements and the very special ones such as the beautiful Andantino in K271 have that sense of freshly minted discovery which we all seek, and the alert ear will pick up all of those subtleties which make Mozart – that most difficult of composers to perform really well – a genuinely magical experience.

I had thought never to require a new set of the Mozart Piano Concertos to go alongside Murray Perahia, though there are of course plenty of fine recordings elsewhere, such as Andras Schiff on Decca, Daniel Barenboim and Mitsuko Uchida with the ECO on Warner Classics just to name a few. I’m not one for whom any one musician ‘can do no wrong’, but in this case I am happy to admit to falling head over heels for Hewitt’s Mozart concertos, and wild horses will not prevent me from collecting the entire set.

Dominy Clements

A very exciting prospect indeed.